I woke up early the next morning and went downstairs in search of a cup of coffee. The Santa Monica streets were damp and filled with early morning fog.
I found a place a couple blocks west of Maryanne's building called The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. I bought a coffee in the largest size they sold. Then I stepped back out onto the street and realized that the huge gray wall of mist and fog at the end of the street was actually the Pacific Ocean.
I couldn't see the ocean itself because of the dense fog. But I could feel it; I could feel the great endless expanse of it. A lighthouse or a ship's horn bellowed in the distance. It echoed for a few seconds, then faded away. I suddenly felt small and cold and alone. I took a sip of coffee. It was hot and bitter. It seared the roof of mouth, but I kept drinking anyway.
Get up early tomorrow morning. Really early. West Coast time. Go to this website, and if the weather conditions are right, you'll see what I saw that day.
Back at the apartment, I got Maryanne's computer working. After listening to her PC make a series of shrill noises--this was when dial-up still roamed the earth--I was online, looking at bus schedules.
Something called The Big Blue Bus would take me to a subway station. From there, the subway would take me downtown, to the Convention Center. As shocked as I was to realize that I was standing only several hundred feet away from the Pacific Ocean that morning, I was even more shocked to learn that L.A. actually had a subway.
It did. And still does. Ride it the next time you go there.
I packed everything I needed into a shoulder bag--notebooks, pens, flimsy business cards, etc.--then walked to the nearby bus stop and waited for the Big Blue Bus to arrive.
What arrived was a big blue bus. I boarded and found an empty seat up front, in case I needed to ask the drive any questions.
And I was off.
A portly man sitting a few seats away from me appeared to be talking to himself. I was about to move away from this obviously insane person when I realized that he wasn't actually talking to himself, but was talking into one of those Radio Shack tape recorders that uses micro-cassette tapes. He clicked the record button on and off as he spoke. Click: "Log update: 8:10 a.m. Just boarded bus on Ocean Avenue. Turned onto Santa Monica Boulevard. Heading east, towards downtown. Feeling excited and optimistic about the day. Scheduled arrival time downtime: About 40 minutes." Click.
The official-looking lanyard hanging around his neck identified him as "Al James," the Editor in Chief of a media outlet called "Global World News." He was, like me, on his way to E3.
Looking for some direction and connection, I introduced myself. Al handed me a piece of paper that I realized was his business card. To my utter delight, his cards were even worse than my cards. They consisted of a bit of clip-art of a globe and Al's name, address, and phone number. To make matters worse, the phone number had a line drawn through it and a new number was written underneath.
"So it's your first E3, eh?" Al said. "Don't worry, I'll show you the ropes."
Al told me that the first thing I needed to do when I got to the Convention Center was head for the media room and pick up my badge. "Veterans like me picked up our badges yesterday though," he said, pointing to his badge to illustrate his point.
The bus, I noticed, was picking up speed. We were pulling onto a freeway. I panicked a little. "Isn't this bus going to the subway?"
Al James let out a knowing laugh. "Noooooo. You are on the Number 10. The Number 10 is the Freeway Express. It's the fastest way to get to the Convention Center."
As we sped along through freeway traffic, Al pulled out a ream of paper from his Global World News website. "This should tell you everything you need to know about who I am," Al said. He handed the paper stack to me.
The paper stack consisted of clips of his writings for his Global World News website. Al's writings, page after page after page, consisted entirely of convoluted, typo-riddled digressions on the mysteries of one game: World of Warcraft.
Click. "Log update: 8:32 a.m. On Freeway. Making good progress so far. ETA at Con.: 9 a.m. Met a writer from New York named Scott Jones. It's his first E3. Unanticipated side quest: Must give Scott the E3 guidance he is in dire need of." Click.
Al reached one of his hands into a backpack and pulled out a packet of those orange colored sandwich crackers with peanut butter spread in a thin layer between each sandwich. He munched noisily on one, making the whole bus stink of stale peanut butter. He offered me one. I felt it would be rude not to take it.
"These clips are terrific," I said, handing his papers back to him. The peanut butter cracker was dry in my mouth.
"You keep them," he said, acting as if he was doing me a big favor. "I've got lots of copies right in here." He confidently patted a hand on the large duffel bag in the seat next to him.
Al James did give me some good advice. He told me that there was a free lunch in the press room that few journalists knew about. (It was true; the only problem was you had to line up for it at 10:45 a.m. if you wanted to have any hope of actually getting one of the free lunches.) He told me that the best place to take a nap was in the South Hall behind the Koei booth. (Also true. The area was poorly lit and the carpeting was extra thick there.) And, of course, he told me about the Number 10 bus, which he kept referring to, strangely, as "our chariot of fire."
As helpful as Al James from Global World News had been, I knew that I needed to get far away from him as soon as possible. Even then I recognized Al James for what he was: The kind of writer that I did not want to be. As Al James continued to fill up micro-cassettes with his log updates, I worried that I was already in danger of falling in with the wrong crowd in this new world.
When the bus dropped us off a few blocks away from the Convention Center, Al stopped to chat with another portly man who also had a Radio Shack recorder in his hand. I realized that this was my moment. I moved away from Al and his friend, letting myself get carried along with the crowd. I heard him call my name a few times, but I pretended I couldn't hear him.
Outside the Convention Center, I deposited Al's Warcraft stories into a trash can. Then I went inside.